Local News

Woman sentenced in extortion scheme

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WOWO) – A Fort Wayne woman has been sentenced by the U.S. District Court for conspiracy to commit wire fraud.

U.S. District Court Judge Holly Brady sentenced 57-year-old Kelly Custer to 63 months in prison followed by two years of supervised release and ordered to pay $1,463,437.50 in restitution to the victims of her crime.

According to court documents, on March 19, 2015, the victims reported that they were being extorted by the mafia.  The documentation that the victims provided indicated that the scheme started back in 2007 when they lived in Fort Wayne and continued after moving to Florida.

The victims state that Kelly Custer informed them that her family received death threats from the mafia and she needed help paying them off to protect herself and her family.  Custer later convinced the victims that their lives, their families’ and friends’ lives were also in danger if they didn’t pay the mafia’s debt.

After the victims moved to Florida, the threats continued through text messages which the victims thought were coming from the actual mafia.  The victims were then informed in 2015 that Kelly Custer had been killed as a result of her problems with the mafia.  They continued to receive threats through text messages from Custer’s phone stating they were members of the mafia.

The victims made the payments primarily to Custer but were also directed to make some to three other co-defendants who are Kelly Custer’s children.  According to the victims, they had paid them approximately 1.5 million dollars over the past seven years, and around $250,000 to $300,000 since moving to Florida.  Payments made to “the mafia” were usually between $3,000 and $10,000 per time.  One occasion, they made a $50,000 payment as they were informed that their friend’s daughter would be killed.

The other defendants, William Custer Jr., Ashley Custer, and Sidney Custer have already been sentenced following their guilty pleas to conspiracy to commit wire fraud and were each ordered to pay restitution to the victims in the amounts of $119,127.99, $118,583.16 and $14,399.78.

U.S. Attorney Thomas L. Kirsch II said, “We will not tolerate extortion or preying on the trust of others, in this case, elderly victims of these perpetrators.  Schemes like these lead to the financial and emotional distress of victims.  My Office in coordination with our law enforcement partners will aggressively prosecute individuals who harass and torment elderly victims with these egregious schemes.”

Grant Mendenhall, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Indianapolis Division said “Today’s sentence sends a strong message to scammers such as Ms. Custer that the FBI and our law enforcement partners will do everything in our power to hold accountable those who prey upon some of our most vulnerable citizens – in this case hard working seniors who thought they were helping a friend in need and that their own lives, and those of their family, were in danger if they didn’t.”

This incident is under investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Tina Nommay.

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